Ever since becoming one of the main editors at Falstaff Books, I've come to appreciate the difficulty of sifting through the slush pile in search for that one gem. I've rejected a good bit by now, and the reasons for myself or another of Falstaff's editor rejecting work usually falls the same way surprisingly often.
The reason surprises me because I've been published since 2009 and not a lot has changed in terms of how they want work submitted to them, but then I realize that not everyone is involved or has the knowledge of the industry that they need to get their work out of slush and into the considerate hands of an editor. Hopefully this list helps people in that situation.
ATTENTION: IF YOU CURRENTLY HAVE A SUBMISSION UNDER CONSIDERATION AT FALSTAFF BOOKS DON'T PANIC! If you are guilty of some of these points that is okay--we judge the work first. These are just general observations to consider.
1. Your query letter lacks
Admittedly this is a debatable point, but I still see the value of a query letter in today's publishing landscape for the plain and simple reason that it reveals three very important things:
First, your query reveals that you know what story you are selling. I cannot tell you how many query letters I've come across that are a hot mess of jumbled ideas that don't feed necessarily into each other, or worse, they conflict. There are a lot of different ideas about how you present your work in the query, but here is my general advice: give me the protagonist and the villain, give me the plot, and raise the stakes immediately.
Second, your query tells Falstaff about how we go about selling you. One of the biggest mistakes I see when authors submit to us is that they provide us little in the way publishing history and instead try to wow us with the opinions of others. Speaking for myself, I don't give a royal shit about what a blogger or your family had to say about an unpublished manuscript when it comes to deciding whether or not it is right for Falstaff. They're not the ones who are going to be out there selling it at cons or trying to get it distributed in bookstores. What I do want to see are your credits, self-published or traditionally released. What I do want to see is the highest Amazon ranking and you patting your back about it. What I do want to see is someone that has been trying to build a platform for themselves or a list of credits to be proud of.
Third, a good query letter shows that you did your homework. It is simple: Salutation, statement of purpose, pitch/SHORT synopsis, brief bio, concluding paragraph starting with "Thank you for your time and consideration" (USE THOSE EXACT WORDS), and a Sincerely go a long way in showing us that you knew what you were doing when you submitted.
2. There's no story in the first three chapters
So the story really does need to start immediately from Page One. We will let you build to "the happening" to the end of chapter One, Debut the plot in Chapter Two, but we need to be well into a story by Chapter Three. And if that doesn't happen you will need to rely on writing so captivating that we ignore it. And then we still might reject you.
I've already read GREAT writing that I've rejected. What Falstaff wants is a GREAT story.
3. You did not follow the guidelines
Here they are. Follow them.
4. Your submission is not right for us
This is where people usually get mad, but as I've discovered a lot recently, this is not out of the norm of genre publishing. The Big Four-Five-Six and Amazon are in a really difficult place where they have kinda decimated their own economic models. Small presses are surviving and growing, a few are even thriving, but until distribution is much more open it is a toss-up. Micro-Presses, magazines, and e-zines are great places to go and get experience, start building a list, but they are never going to give you a livable income like they did back in the 1970s and 1980s. With the mid-list gone because of the disappearance of the small to mid-sized bookshop and the continued withering of the big box stores, digital is a bit of a Wild Frontier still.
We consider a ton of things at Falstaff when we get a submission. The work needs to be great, it needs to be in a place where we can provide enough time and effort for developmental and copy edits, but also time to produce a book wrap, e-book file, social media posts, distribution channels, pay those involved (which we do), and then create a timeline toward a manuscript's release. If a submission has a great story but the writing needs a lot of work to get there, we pass. If the writing is great but the story needs work, the severity of the the development might make us turn it down as well.
I also let you in on a little secret: Falstaff says that we take Urban Fantasy and Contemporary Fantasy, but we have too much of it coming out right now. I would bend over backward to read about time travel, or a Sword & Planet novel, or a non-European Epic Fantasy. I would love a great mystery involving space aliens or a romance between two lesbian sorceress' that doesn't have a happy ending. But right now we have too much Urban and Contemporary on our plates. And we love them. But we want to love other things, too.
5. You haven't learned the rules of writing
Seriously, join a writing group that offers critique. I don't care if it is online, among your friends, or meets every Saturday. I don't care it if is made up of amateurs or bestsellers or just self-pubbed gurus. Get writing and get better. Self-publish, but get your work out there so it gets tested. Strive for publication with a great small press or The Big Four-Five-Six, and go try your skills out at the magazines, e-zines, and anthologies. Keep striving to spell better, tighten your grammar, try out new storytelling elements to your work, read wider, write more, submit more, and keep building momentum. One day you might crash through my screen and demand a contract.
Go learn the rules, then learn to break them, and then learn to grind. Grind yourself into your voice, your characters, your settings, and your plots.
Become the best writer you can be.